Colin White (eng)

We share here the text of the obituary written by Richard Rossner that appeared in the Guardian (Higher Education, Other lives) on 10 March 2008.

Shared here for preservation and dissemination purposes under fair dealing; no copyright infringement intended.


Colin White

by Richard Rossner

Unique and charismatic, Colin White, who has died following a respiratory illness aged 75, imbued his Mexican students with a love of English literature, especially the poetry of Blake, Keats, Wordsworth and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Having been a teacher of English at the Anglo-Mexican Cultural Institute from the late 1950s, in 1965 he joined the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), one of the world’s largest universities. In the late 1970s he became head of the English department, and radically increased the number of postgraduates.

By the 1990s Colin had become a mainstay of the university’s fledgling open university, Universidad Abierta. He achieved exceptional enrolment and retention rates. From 1992 to 1998 he was head of professional studies, and in 1997 received UNAM’s prize for humanities teaching.

Born in the London suburbs, the son of working-class parents, Colin was educated at Raynes Park grammar school. Following national service with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (1950-52) – he was wounded in the Korean war – he read English at Queens’ College, Cambridge. Among his fellow students was Ted Hughes, with whom he remained in contact. In 1956, the Suez adventure led to him to move first to Canada, and then to Mexico.

Throughout his career at UNAM Colin had a considerable teaching load, and, in the early 1970s, he was also asked to teach history and Latin American studies. His death triggered an outpouring of blogs by former students (see colinwhitemullerinmemoriam.wordpress.com/los-blogs-recuerdan).

Colin was a polymath. He read voraciously and kept in touch with friends, former students – and Mexican farmers and artisans. Deeply concerned about social welfare, he was passionately interested in European, Latin American and maritime history. He loved sailing and, on a shoestring, designed and built three sea-going boats between 1970 and 2005, though he never achieved his ambition of sailing single-handed to England.

He is survived by his wife Luz, daughter Rebecca and son Gavin.

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